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A handful of soil really is its own universe. In fact, the mathematical properties that make for galaxy clustering is similar to the physics and biology behind the clustering of soil. So is there a big bang theory for soil? Listen in as Professor John Crawford addresses these big questions for soil-plant-microbe interactions.

This conversation explores

  • How fractal geometry applies to soil properties and why that’s significant,
  • Why the soil-plant relationship is dependent on soil’s ability to allow oxygen and water to interact in a specific way,
  • How soil microbes organize structure through a feedback loop that includes a “glue,” and
  • What these properties have to do with soil health management, carbon sequestration, climate change, better agriculture, and water retention.

John Crawford is a professor in Strategy and Technology Management at the University of Glasgow. He’s studied soil for over 30 years, but actually began his career in astrophysics, and it shows.

He gives listeners a fascinating lesson in the organizational physics of galaxies and how he brought that expansive understanding to soil structure. Furthermore, he explains why this is worthy of close scrutiny, namely its ability to support terrestrial life. He comments that, “if soil is good at one thing . . . it’s that it allows air and water to mix over a very broad range of environmental conditions.” He gives a fascinating description for how it does so through a maximized interface of microbes, oxygen, carbon, and water with a biological glue to hold it together.

He gets even more specific for how fungi and bacteria practice a critical job share of interactions that benefit all organisms involved. In fact, he adds that “it’s probably more accurate to think about soil, as an organism, as a composite organism.” He gives specific ways readers can understand these interactions through relaying classic and current studies and describes the direction his research his heading, including toward understanding how soil retains and releases carbon in different situations, how soil-plant relationships work and can benefit from intervention, and how water management can be improved through soil structures.

Listen in to hear more about the fascinating universe under our feet.

For more about his work, see his page at the University of Glasgow.

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